City releases suspension details

By Tom Joyce -

Mount Airy Grounds and Maintenance Supervisor Michella Huff was indeed suspended, and that action had nothing to do with a recent bush-cutting incident involving a city commissioner. Instead, it was a result of unspecified violations of personnel policy, according to a city official.

This was the crux of an email statement released by City Manager Barbara Jones and the office of the mayor on Wednesday night, in the wake of reports regarding apparent disciplinary action against Huff. That statement was the first response by Jones on the issue despite repeated attempts to solicit comments from her this week.

The timing of the suspension, which had been revealed by sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, was questioned in light of an incident last month. On July 26, Commissioner Shirley Brinkley elected to cut what she claimed were dead bushes and trimmed shrubs on the grounds of the Surry Arts Council Brinkley said had been “neglected.”

Such tasks on city property, such as the Andy Griffith Playhouse used by the arts organization, are handled by the municipal landscaping unit headed by Huff, who was critical of the action taken by Brinkley.

The South Ward commissioner also drew heavy criticism from community members in online postings to news articles, both when the incident occurred and after reports about Huff’s disciplinary action some charged was related because of the timing.

But in the statement released by the city manager and mayor, the matter involving Brinkley is said to have been no factor in that at all.

“Following an investigation, Ms. Huff was suspended effective August 25 without pay for a period of three days for disciplinary reasons,” it reads.

“These suspensions were the result of violations of the city personnel policy that were totally unrelated to the recent incident at the Surry Arts Council.”

The “violations” are not specified in the statement, which also includes input from Huff — who had not responded to a request for comment earlier in the week.

“I realize that this situation had nothing to do with Ms. Brinkley or the bush issue,” Huff says in the statement. “I will gladly apologize. I am ready to move forward and hope others will do the same thing.”

Huff’s three-day suspension extended through Wednesday, according to the statement, which also recognizes her record of service to the municipality.

“The city values the work that Michella Huff has done over the years,” it reads. “She has been with the city 23 years.”

No other light is shed on the suspension in the statement, which says officials are not permitted to comment further due to the confidential personnel matter involved.

Brinkley said Thursday that the five members of the board of commissioners received copies of the statement.

However, Brinkley declined to comment on its findings, or the fact some citizens had wrongly linked the disciplinary action to her.

“I’m not making any statement at all,” she said.

“What Barbara said is fine.”

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

By Tom Joyce

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